Maryland Zoo to stay open in January and February

Improved finances lead to extension

November 10, 2010|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Buoyed by stronger finances, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore will be open in January and February for the first time in five years, zoo officials announced this week.

The zoo will be open four days out of the week during those two months, said Don Hutchinson, the zoo's president, and visitors will get half-off admission prices.

The zoo had primarily been closed in the past in January and February because of cost considerations — Hutchinson said attendance in January and February was historically low, and the zoo could save money by reducing its staff from 250 to 185 during those months.

But the zoo has finished the past two fiscal years in the black, Hutchinson said, in part by raising more private funds and reducing overhead costs, and staying open in the winter is a symbol of the zoo's financial strength. In both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, the zoo closed its books with about $200,000 more in revenue than expenditures, Hutchinson said.

"When you get healthier, you want your public to know you're healthier," Hutchinson said. "It's symbolic for our members to know that we are in a position to remain open now. We don't have to close the doors in order to save money."

The zoo had a particularly difficult year in 2010, when historic blizzards in February knocked down trees and destroyed two aviaries, causing at least $1.5 million in damage, according to news reports at the time.

Hutchinson said he thinks visitors will be able to see a different side of the zoo and its animals in the winter months than that on display during the rest of the year.

"Animals behave differently in cool weather," he said. "It's safe to say you're likely to see the polar bears much more active in January and February than you would in July and August."

Hutchinson added that zoo officials are hoping for mild weather on long weekends in January and February to attract more visitors, along with special events such as the zoo's annual "Sex at the Zoo" Valentine's Day event, aimed at educating visitors about animal reproduction.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jtorbati

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